Nearly a year into legalization, Banff cannabis stores ready to open

Five retailers were approved by the town in March but they still required provincial regulator sign-off.

Five retailers were approved by the town in March but still required provincial regulator sign-off

A street view of the town of Banff. A large mountain can be seen in the background.
Cannabis retailers are not allowed to set up shop on the Banff Avenue strip. (Radio-Canada)

With the promising prospect of more than 4.2 million tourists trickling through Banff every year, cannabis retailers, seeing dollar signs, wanted a piece.

But the process hasn't been easy because of the town's restrictions. 

The commercial district is small and pot storefronts can't be on Banff Avenue — they also can't have street-facing windows. To top it off, cannabis stores can't be within 30 metres of each other, or schools.

The small retail district meant that potential retailers didn't have a whole lot to choose from.

Nevertheless, Spiritleaf Banff, one of five town-approved retailers, has announced it will be up and running by Oct. 1. 

It's all been an arduous process. But we're writing the rules as we go here.- Jeff Hines, Spiritleaf owner

So far, it's the only Banff location approved by the provincial regulator — the Alberta Gaming, Liquor & Cannabis commission — according to the AGLC website.

"It's all just been a process," said Jeff Hines, who owns Spiritleaf. "It's all been an arduous process. But we're writing the rules as we go here."

Hines says he's invested a lot to be in Banff, renovating the entire front of the building. But he says it's worth it because he expects business to be booming. 

He sees a bright future in the town, especially for cannabis tourism. 

Dreams of cannabis tourism

"I absolutely think that cannabis tourism is going to be a thing," Hines said.

He's eager to tackle the issue of consumption in Banff, where public consumption is currently illegal.

"Hopefully, we can be early adopters and early stakeholders and be involved," Hines said.

Other retailers, who are in the middle of renovations, are hoping to follow by the end of this year or the beginning of 2020.

None of the three whom CBC spoke to have any concerns about competition.

Other retailers at the ready

Mike Vioncek is the chief operating officer of Fire and Flower. He invested about $4.5 million to get a site from another cannabis operator who decided to pull out of Banff. Fire and Flower could be the second retailer to open in the resort town. 

"I do think there is a large part of the community, not only community but a large portion of our visitors, that would like to either continue to consume or try some product," Vioncek said. "So I think we're going to see, I think, very, very good sales out of this market."

To set up in Banff, these entrepreneurs had to answer to municipal, provincial and federal rules — because the town is nestled in a national park.

Regulators helpful

But on all accounts, the process went smoothly, and municipal, provincial and federal regulators were happy to help and guide retailers through.

"The regulators … have done a fantastic job," said Adam Coates, the chief financial officer with Westleaf. "In some cases, it hasn't moved as fast as you would like. We also have to remember retailers haven't done this before, and the regulators haven't done this before."

Westleaf plans to open in early 2020.

With files from Tiphanie Roquette